- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) a pear-like fruit with a tough skin and oily green flesh
What do the words musk, avocado and orchid all have in common? This week, we found out that they all come from words meaning “testicle”.
How did all that happen? Well, let’s play ball.
Musk comes to us via French, Latin, Greek and, earlier still, Persian—but before of all that, it derives ultimately from a Sanskrit word, muska-s, meaning “testicle”. That ancient Sanskrit word is itself thought to come from the Sanskrit word for “mouse”, mus; a deer’s musk glands were supposedly thought to resemble another certain pair of male glands, which were in turn supposed to resemble mice. Or so the story goes.
Avocado meanwhile was borrowed into English via Spanish from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. In Nahuatl, the avocado was known as ahuakatl, but that word also meant “testicle”; the fruit, as you might have guessed by now, was so called because of its resemblance to said male body part. (When that Nahuatl word found its way into Spanish, incidentally, it became confused with the Spanish word for “lawyer”, avocado, leaving us with a curious crossover between avocados and advocates.)
Last of all, orchids take their name from orkhis, the Greek word for “testicle”, which is said to be a reference to the shape of the plants’ roots. That’s an etymology shared by a handful of medical terms like orchitis and orchidectomy, the inflammation and surgical removal of an orkhis, respectively.